#7- Four Different Mountains

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January 12th 2008
Published: January 18th 2008
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Red IvyRed IvyRed Ivy

Red ivy on cliff face with rice in front


I have now actually managed to visit four mountain areas from Korea’s historical past (Silla, Goryeo, Joseon and modern times) recently. Admittedly, one of these, Goryeo, was only a reconstructed TV film set, but it did give me an idea of what life would have been like then.

The teachers at one of my schools went on an excursion back to the area I have now been to four times now. It was a place I had wanted to explore on my other three trips there, but had no time. It is the holly area of the Silla period and is mainly Buddhist statues and carvings over a very steep mountain. Many of the ‘heads’ have been lost after rolling down the mountain, or stolen over the centuries. It was a tough walk to the top, since a lot of the tracks where heavily eroded, but worth it.

I managed to get to another, (fairly well known by Koreans,) tourist site in a ‘highlands’ area. It was a major pass several centuries ago. Over seven kilometers thru the pass are three gates for controlling

The snows have started!
movement of people and invading armies, including the Japanese which have invaded Korea several times. It was a very pleasant area for walking and I managed to explore an outdoor TV film set for a major costume drama about Korea’s early history in the ‘Goryeo period’, which was interesting. I think it was closed off for extension work, but somehow I managed to wander in ‘by mistake’ when no-one was looking.( I still have several ‘dumb foreign tourist’ cards left.)
The walk up thru the three gates was rather crowded, being a Saturday. Some do hiking in suits, ties and high heels. Many other Korean tourists dress up well for hiking, with coats with many pockets, day packs with many pockets, with flags on sticks sticking out of them and walking spikes etc. Unfortunately, these flags sticking out of their bags are at my eye level, so I had a few near misses as they march on past. I also managed to avoid being jabbed in foot by the walking spikes of these ‘invading armies’ of tourists. Some groups also had chants and cheer squads.
Hundreds of them passed me as I stopped to look at things on the
Mount NamsanMount NamsanMount Namsan

Our leader, Mr Park points our our walking route. (marked in red on the map)
side of the track and the gates themselves. The first gate was soon overrun and they continued to the second gate without even pausing. They did actually regroup before taking the second gate, without a single loss of life. The third gate was overrun successfully and it looked like some sort of victory celebration was in progress as I arrived. It seemed to a politically meeting at the end of a daylong political pilgrimage. Their leader was being mobbed and I managed to slip over in their stampede to see him. Then the speeches started over a very load public address system. It was not what I was expecting after a long walk into the hills for 7 kilometers! Time to leave.
The walk back was much more pleasant. I hardly saw any people and it was nice to walk back late afternoon in the pleasant warm sunshine and take my time to enjoy things on the side of the track. Overall, it was a pleasant day.

Yes, another class excursion; this time with my Korean English Teacher Class. This is a local mountain near my village and this time we were lucky to drive to
Mount Namsan -kings tombsMount Namsan -kings tombsMount Namsan -kings tombs

Start of walk. Are pine trees bowing to dead kings or reaching out for the sunlight?
the top, (well, most of the way, anyway). It was a mountain fortress built relatively recently in 1709 in the Joseon period, to resist one of the many Japanese invasions. Most of the rock walls have disappeared and the main gate is a reconstruction. There was a cavalry army stationed here then, so it would have been fairly open, but now it is mostly overrun with jungle, although part of it is still used as part of South Korea’s military area. We didn’t see any of it, but passed a couple of soldiers coming along the jungle track, who advised us to go back. I don’t think many tourists go up there nowadays.

The highest mountain around this area is called Mount Palgongsen and is visible from everywhere, including my lounge room window. It is very distinctive because it has several civilian communication towers together with a dome shaped military radar tower nearby. The whole area is sealed off from the general public.
However, the general pubic do support their military with a ‘hands on’ approach. Donations of money, extra warm clothes, even boxes of mandarins are given to the soldiers (National Service
Mount NamsanMount NamsanMount Namsan

Buddha with missing head.
for all young men is still compulsory here). Our school was doing its bit by giving a concert at a chapel on the military base. I hadn’t been anywhere for a couple of weeks now and was keen to get outside somewhere different. Luckily I was invited along after special clearance. The base was constructed by the Americans at the height of the Cold War and as part of the air defense against North Korea. It was handed over to the South Koreans in 1988.
They came in thee trucks to take us up to the top. The school band, musical instruments (and mandarins) were in one truck and students and teachers in the other two.
After a ride up a narrow and bendy road we arrive and set up in the chapel. I soon find out that after the concert we were to go straight home- not what I was hoping for. After being inside with school kids all week and living with a chapel inside my house, I really needed to get out and explore something new. Eventually I was allowed to wander around the base by myself while the concert was in progress.
I was however told
Mount NamsanMount NamsanMount Namsan

Buddha engraved on rock face near top of mountain
that I was not allowed to point my camera in certain directions.
The top of the mountain was surprisingly flat with concrete buildings everywhere, barb wire here and there and a few bunkers and gun emplacements. The whole place was rather bleak, rocky and wind swept. Visibility was rather low and it looked like a blizzard was about to blow up. I did not see many people around (I guess any sane person was inside). Every now and then I would come across an area surrounded by barb wire with soldiers at the gate with machine guns. They would always salute you before and after they sent you on your way. They were very polite.
After the concert, the soldiers in charged offered to drive anyone interested over to the very top of the mountain. I of course jumped at the opportunity. It was just a short drive by jeep along a narrow road on a ridge. So we all stood on the very top and took a few photos (with no sensitive military installations in the background of course). This was a pretty wild place and now a snow storm was blowing up, so it was time to leave.
Mount NamsanMount NamsanMount Namsan

Many of the tourists in the walk
As they say “A great place to visit, but I wouldn’t like to live there.”

After visiting the three other mountains from Korea’s three earlier historical periods, I was wondering what would become of this place? After reuniting with North Korea, will they turn this place into a tourist resort? Can concrete buildings and communications towers compete with Buddhist statues and rock walls and gates? Only time will tell.

The students who volunteered for the extra English lessons in their holidays (imagine students doing that in Australia!) are still coming to class, although some do arrive late. These camps are taking a bit of getting used to because of my never having taught games before. Making the rules clear and getting all to work together means you have to be a quizmaster, show host, entertainer, ringmaster, lawyer, judge and jury and more, all at the same time!! Hey, I just came here to teach!
I am however learning a few things along the way. For example the other day when asking the students to separate pairs of words into “same” or “opposite” I had a dispute.
I would have said “Opposite”,
Mount NamsanMount NamsanMount Namsan

The view from top of mountain
since in the West, we do tend to separate work and play; (how about you?) but a majority of the students said “No, teacher,-work IS play.”
After trying to get some of these games to work in class, I have to agree- play IS work!!

Of course, ideally, work should be play and I have been lucky in that I have enjoyed most jobs I have had in my life, so far. At the moment, it is not easy because of the weather. I am definably not made for cold temperatures and snow. To make matters worse, often, everywhere inside (even cars) the heating is too HOT!.... I can’t win.
I also notice that I am starting to miss the sun. Everywhere inside also, the curtains are usually closed. I sometimes find myself during breaks, outside in the sun, (shivering,) by choice.
I would not be surprised if my co- workers and students think to themselves “Bloody foreigners; never happy, always complaining.”
Anyway, enough complaining; until next time.

Additional photos below
Photos: 59, Displayed: 28



First gate.The tourists arrive

reconstructed village area

The second gate

The second gate

Army of tourists regrouping to take the second gate

Felllow tourist

second gate

Moving on towards the third and final gate
Mungyeong- third gateMungyeong- third gate
Mungyeong- third gate

The third gate has been taken!

getting very crowed

time to leave

The third gate

The start of walk home

18th January 2008

John in Nanchang
Hi Tall Joh. Great blog. I would have thought the opposite of love is indifference? The weather there looks like the weather in Nanchang, China at the moment, as we too have had snow.
29th January 2008

Utimately, you visited Mungyeong.
How was your winter vacation? As your blog seen, Are you still combat with your teenagers? soon or later, you will go abroad, to Cambodia to refresh wasted your mind and body with combat with your teenagers. I am refreshing wasted my mind and body with combat with my kids thru skiing. I already went skiing five times in this vacation. I hope you will get a good and fun time in Cambodia.

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